In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.
– Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
I SPEND MY final afternoon in Kuta Beach, the main tourist drag of Kuta in southern Bali. Heavy clouds drift overhead, casting a gloomy look on the long stretch of beach, though the general vibe of the area remains alive.
I stroll along the dirty-white sand, passing a surfing school doing lessons with a few tourists who are learning to conquer the waves for the first time. A group of schoolchildren does some extracurricular activities, running towards me as soon as I signal to them my camera. Vendors sell bottles of Bintang beer, shirts and souvenirs. Somewhere in the distance, a sound system intones the bass-heavy tune of a pop song. Waiters of a nearby restaurant walk by, placing offerings on the sand to appease the gods.
I find an empty spot under a palm tree and rest there for a while. A man approaches me and offers me a bottle of Bintang. I return his smile and buy one. I listen to the crashing waves and wannabe surfers laughing as they get pummeled out of their surfboards.
My weeklong trip has taken me across Java and brought me here in Bali. I’m physically exhausted and while I’m not exactly broke, I’m pretty close. But it’s through this journey that I’ve come to learn more not only of Indonesia and myself but also of the innate goodness of humanity and a divine existence residing above human comprehension.
I feel a sense of calmness once more as I slide my fingers down the bottle, feeling its coldness. I recall that afternoon in Yogyakarta with Reni and remember the three wishes I wrote at the cross. I smile and take a couple of gulps from the bottle.
I then close my eyes and whisper, “Terima kasih.”
What I wrote on that paper (in Tagalog originally):
Bless Reni and her family and allow her to do her final pillar by letting her go to Mecca.
You know how I feel about something. Please give me the courage to go after it
Please, please, please. Let me survive this trip. Guide me.
A day after leaving Kuta, I was back in Jakarta, where I would spend another evening before flying back to Manila. I was trying to stretch what was left of my money so I decided to walk from the Gambir bus station to my hostel instead of taking a taxi. It was around 11 p.m., so the streets were almost deserted. Then it started to rain. I made a detour to some random street and took shelter at a waiting shed.
When the rain weakened a bit, I resumed walking. But after half an hour, I realized I didn’t know where I was on the map anymore. And as if being lost wasn’t enough, the rain was gathering strength once again.
I went to another waiting shed in an empty street to wait for the rain to pass, and try and figure things out. I was now willing to take a taxi, though since it was very late, there weren’t any passing by, except for three that already had passengers. After what seemed like eternity, as I was sitting there, a motorbike stopped a few meters away, its driver just looking at me. I felt a chill run down my spine.
Of course, my instinct told me to at least ignore the man, if not walk away. But for some reason, I felt the need to walk in his direction. So I did. And then he talked to me in English.
“Do you need a ride? Where are you going?” he asked.
“To Cikini,” I said, believing he was an ojek (motorbike taxi) driver. I realized that I couldn’t walk anymore, not in this weather. I was prepared to bargain hard. “How much?”
The man shook his head. “Oh, no, no, no, no, no! I’m taking you there for free.”
Story short, I took his offer. And it was during the ride to my hostel I learned that my driver’s name is Joshua, a pastor of a church in Central Jakarta, who happened to be on his way home when he saw me.
“You looked so confused out there,” he said, “so I stopped. I knew you needed help.”
I thanked him.
He said, “No, don’t thank me. Thank God. You were a sheep that was literally lost so He sent me to guide you.”
First published in TravelBlog on September 18, 2013.